Lively debate and real intent to pursue opportunities in Helsinki and Finland

Many eyebrows were raised at Helsinki Business Hub and Invest in Finland’s London event: “Digital Innovation and Regional HQ Opportunities in Finland”. Amongst the 65 delegates there was palpable surprise that Finland and its capital region have such a well-defined offer, expressed in such an open and meaningful manner, and that there was so much for the delegates to take up with the teams from Helsinki Business Hub and Invest in Finland once the presentations had finished.

At the top of the agenda, Finland’s offer to overseas companies seeking to undertake R&D and explore regional HQ opportunities was expressed in eloquent terms by Ambassador Päivi Luostarinen, Dr Marja-Liisa Niinikoski (CEO, Helsinki Business Hub), and Patsy van Hove (Senior Manager, IBM Global Services Plant Location International) – all beautifully compered by Michel Lemagnen (Senior Researcher, Helsinki Business Hub). Myths were debunked, the stage was set and vital information was relayed.

Perhaps the company presentations by Michael Haralson (Deputy General Manager, Techcode Accelerator), Kenneth Ma (CEO, Kuan Inc) and Huber Hu (CEO, Powervision Europe), cemented the information delivered by the Ambassador, Helsinki Business Huba and IBM-PLI; and got the room thinking about their own companies and the opportunities that may await them in Finland.

Michael of Techcode was evangelical about what makes Finland “a great place for a tech start-up or as an IT R&D location”. He emphasised that companies gain access to experts in many different fields when they work in Finland; not just those fields in which they are already well rehearsed. He pointed out that Techcode Finland offers a very fast gateway to China – but that is not to say that the link to Silicon Valley and other important tech locations is diminished. He was at pains to point out that Finland is very much in the middle of things, geographically speaking. Importantly, Finland is not only a technology hot spot in terms of its digital expertise, he said, but it also combines technology and engineering knowledge, thereby bringing software and hardware together in a single eco-system and a thriving start-up community.

Kenneth from Kuan was similarly enthusiastic about the support and expertise he and his company had encountered in Finland. Kuan is a British fintech company that employs blockchain technology in the development of its products. Did Kuan choose Finland because of Brexit he asked out loud? “Not entirely,” he responded. For Kuan, it was largely a regulatory decision. Kenneth explained that a licence from the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK would have taken 12 months; the equivalent organisation in Finland – the FSA – only required a month to issue a licence. When asked about the importance of a fintech ecosystem in Helsinki to Kuan’s location decision-making, Kenneth responded that it was more important that the Finnish banks understood blockchain technology as well as their own business of banking. That’s what impressed him the most. But let’s not forget that Kuan has also received a Tekes grant to the tune of €0.5m plus other support; there has been plenty of practical help alongside the chiming together of technology with banking.

Kenneth was also vocal about his favourable impression of the honest, humble and shy Finnish people he has encountered along the way; as well as the favourable Helsinki rents (which he put at half those of London).

Huber from Powervision Europe called Finland “an amazing gateway to enter the EU”. He said: “Typically, when Chinese companies come to Europe they blindly think: London, Frankfurt, etc. Now it is the right time to do the right thing.”

Previously working with Huawei, Huber said he learned from that experience that the right market entry is crucial; R&D must always be a core competence; continuous investment in R&D turns the follower into a leader; and that the Nordics are a good region for technology R&D, especially Finland. While in Finland, Huber said Huawei discovered that Finland has rich resources for R&D; but you have to hunt out the right people, do so straight away, and make the most of the Finnish market which is both transparent and not as small as he first thought.

With Powervision, Huber said, he has found a “hidden Heaven” in Finland. This company is all about robotics, including under-water robots. The HQ is in Beijing but, in 2015, a regional HQ was established in Helsinki to carry out marketing, sales, services and administration. An R&D centre has been set up in Tampere to develop wireless communications and undertake work on camera technology; and there is a service centre in Poland. In addition to the Helsinki office, there are further sales offices in Germany and the UK. Huber also praised Finland’s political elite for the friendliness it has shown to both China’s leaders and its companies alike.

Following the company presentations, a panel discussion ensued, kicked off by Antti Aumo, Head of Invest in Finland. He called Finland a “technology super power” and commented that when companies come to Finland they find three things: 1) companies that make high-tech products; 2) companies that create enabling technology; and 3) companies that use technology to create a world-class business, like Zalando.

Antti said that three themes reoccur when overseas companies consider Finland as a location for their next stages: the ability to speed up product creation; the ability to boost innovation; and the ability to digitise creations. He said the brain-power evident in Finland does not necessarily surprise visiting companies but the fact that this brain-power is cost-competitive perhaps does.

Michel from Helsinki Business Hub reminded the room that the Finnish people are early adopters of technology and so, although the Finnish market is not huge, it is hungry for the next development and willing to buy. Antti added that being part of the EU guarantees significant access to a huge buying pool, and that is not to be forgotten.

When asked about R&D tax credits, Marja-Liisa of Helsinki Business Hub, conceded that Finland isn’t offering these at present Finland instead has another approach. She pointed out that the Finnish Government has, instead, chosen to reinvest Finnish tax in R&D through Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation), access to which is restricted to companies registered in Finland. Antti added that Finnish corporation tax, however, is competitive; has been reduced to 20% and it is the lowest in the Nordics.

Jukka Jokinen from Helsinki Business Hub interjected that the venture capital scene in Finland is also impressive, especially given the relatively small size of the country. “We have lots of serial entrepreneurs,” he reminded us.

If there was any downside to Finland it was, as Marja-Liisa conceded, the country’s awkwardness around selling its huge virtues. But perhaps the last word should go to Antti from Invest in Finland who gave the proceedings a human dimension when he commented that companies who are new to Finland remark how enjoyable it is to set up and live as an ex pat in his home country. That is no small advantage.

Text by Joanne Murray, Editor, Corp Expansion; Director, PSP Ltd

For a summary of the speeches delivered at the event about Finland’s offer to overseas companies seeking to undertake R&D and explore regional HQ opportunities from Ambassador Paivi Luostarinen, Dr Marja-Liisa Niinikoski (CEO, Helsinki Business Hub), and Patsy van Hove (Senior Manager, IBM Global Services Plant Location International), please see

March 16, 2017